- May 28, 2012
XIII Congress of the Association of Poles in Lithuania
Standing up for Polish education in Lithuania, struggle for public use of minorities’ languages, spelling of names and of Poles, land return, culture issues, preservation of monuments, supporting of the young, as well as autumn parliament elections were the most important subjects of the XIII Congress of the Association of Poles in Lithuania which took place the last Saturday at the House of the Polish Culture in Vilnius. The deputy of The Republic of Lithuania Michal Mackiewicz has been reselected for the chairman of the Association for the next term of office by majority of votes.
“In spite of time which passes the problems of Poles in Lithuania referring to the fundamental civil rights are still the same. They stand, they are hard like walls, like concrete and it might seem that they are impossible to destroy, moreover sometimes they can bud and duplicate like in a fairy tale. But we know that these walls will fall down as it already happened once with more powerful ones. This is what we believe. This is where our stubbornness and tenacity in achieving our goal come from” – these are words which started the reporting paper of Michal Mackiewicz, the chairman of the Association of Poles in Lithuania, the deputy of the Republic of Lithuania representing Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania. And these problems, raised like walls and present for last two decades, were the main subject of speeches given by delegates and guests of the XIII Association of Poles in Lithuania Congress.
The Association of Poles in Lithuania is the most numerous social organization of Polish minority in Lithuania as well as the largest social organization all over Lithuania. There are 15 local divisions of Association and about 10,000 members. 478 delegates took part in the XIII organization Congress. The following people were also present: Barbara Borys-Damięcka vice-president of Emigration and Communication with Poles Abroad Committee (Komisja Spraw Emigracji i Łączności z Polakami za Granicą), Tadeusz Aziewicz Polish parliament deputy, co-president of Polish-Lithuanian parliament group, Janusz Skolimowski ambassador of Polish Republic in Lithuania, Stanisław Kargul the chief of consular department of Republic of Poland Embassy, counselor-minister, Stanisław Widtmann vice-minister of culture of Lithuania, Longin Komołowski vice-president of “Polish Community” Association, Czesław Okińczyk, the signatory of Lithuania Independence Act, Helena Miziniak honorary president of European Union of Polish Communities, Adam Chajewski vice-president of Federation of Borderlands Organizations ( Federacja Organizacji Kresowych).
In delegates’ opinion the most alarming action relating to assimilation of Polish minorities in Lithuania is control of polish educational system. The critical point of this action was gained when amendment on Educational Act was adopted by the Parliament on 17th of March last year. According to the chairman of Association of Poles in Lithuania- “it made Poles in Lithuania more engaged in this issue. Common threats bring people together. Some new organizations came to life such as Forum of Parents from the Polish schools in Lithuania, strike committees. Was it the intention of the reform authors? It seems that the effect was opposite. (…) . With regard to this act we are going to undertake any possible actions as these discriminating and limiting foundations of Polish school rights were revoked”.
One of important subjects during the Congress were relations of Polish community in Lithuania with motherland. Speechmakers were giving their thanks to Poland for its support both political and content-related as well as for financial support. President, Parliament, Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Polish state gave Poles in Lithuania their full support. It was pointed out that without this support the struggle for Polish identity in Lithuania would be more difficult. During the Congress letters from Bogdan Borusewicz the speaker of the Senate and Donald Tusk the Prime Minister of Republic of Poland were read out.
Barbara Borys-Damięcka the Senator said in her speech as follows: “Poles in Lithuania have been and still are our priority”. Financial support on the part of the Polish state is very important issue for Polish community in Lithuania. As the Senator said between 2008 and 2012 the amount of 38 million of Polish zlotys were transferred to support Polish community in Lithuania.
It was novelty in political space that Poles in motherland so clearly and loudly objected against discrimination of Poles in Lithuania. Over 20 of protest campaigns took place in Warsaw, Gdansk, Torun and Wroclaw. Adam Chajewski vice-president of Federation of Borderlands Organizations (Federacja Organizacji Kresowych), honored with golden emblem of Association of Poles in Lithuania was one of initiators and organizers of these campaigns. Stanisław Pieszko vice-president of Association of Poles in Lithuania was honored with Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by virtue of Bronisław Komorowski decree, the President of The Republic of Poland.
Within last three years since the XII Congress of Association of Poles in Lithuania took place, an issue such as discriminatory policy of Lithuanian authorities toward Polish minority became international. As it was pointed out by Michal Mackiewicz -” the issue became well-known. Many organizations of the Polish community entered their protests to EU, to the Parliament of their countries of residence as well as to the Polish and Lithuanian authorities. Many world-wide articles describing divergences of Lithuania and Poland way of European minority treatment were published. European structures and Polish American Congress are more and more interested in this issue. The result is that Polish-Lithuanian relations were cooled off. There are those who try to place the blame for the situation on rebellious Polish minority in Lithuania. This is what we cannot agree with. We are not only the loyal citizens of our country but we do love our country and hardly anybody is attached to the land as we are”.
During the Congress the internal situation of organization was analyzed. Both achievements and failures were discussed. According to the chairman of Association opinion, these are people who constitute the core of Association; they work hard to propagate the Polish identity. Within last three-years-term of office, the local structures carried out hundreds of events. The positive trend is significant influx of the young to the branches of Association.
One of Association problems is that some of its branches exist in documents only and they do not carry out any activities. Another problem is that not all cultural events are of the same quality. The competition is really strong, especially in the capital, that is why any Polish event should be competitive, in particular in relation to Russian-speaking events.
Waldemar Tomaszewski vice-president of Vilnius district branch of Association, deputy of European Parliament, president of Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania said he has been a member of Association of Poles in Lithuania “almost half of his life. I am 47 now and I joined Association when I was 23”. He raised very important issue of keeping Polish identity awareness and opposing to assimilation by speaking Polish.
– We shouldn’t be afraid to speak Polish on the streets, in shops and other public places. It is sometimes the case that Poles speak Lithuanian with each other. We have to break that. We are at home – these are words of the chairman of the Association most numerous branch. He also called for using traditional, not lithuanized names of towns in Vilnius Region. The register of such towns in Vilnius Region has been already drafted. It was also Waldemar’s Tomaszewski initiation to draft a special register in which a land property in Vilnius Region before collectivization would be established as today after reprivatization has been made by Lithuanian authorities it is sometimes very difficult to determine the real land ownership in Vilnius Region. He also called for refusal of unfair monetary compensation for land and demanding land return in kind.
Both in the Association chairman and delegates speeches a lot of intention was dedicated to issues such as Polish national heritage monuments protection. One of the topics of the highest importance is taking care of Zalavas, the place where the marshal Pilsudski was born. The issues of culture-related buildings return were also brought up as they were built thanks to Polish community fees. It is especially about the buildings of Pohulanka Theatre, Society of Friends of Science, scout’s village. As Michal Kleczkowski suggested “if it is impossible to get these buildings back in kind then the solution the same as in case of return of Jews properties in Lithuania could be applied. In case of unreturned buildings the Lithuanian state would have to pay the monetary compensation.
A very emotional speech was given by Franciszka Abramowicz, the vice-president of Kaunas Association branch. She warned people gathered in The House of Polish Culture in Vilnius against efficient lithuanization policy of Poles in Lithuania. As evidence she presented the situation in Kaunas and Kaunas district, which before the war, were powerful Polish identity centers. Among inhabitants of Kaunas there were 20 % of Poles. She said-”I don’t know what happens when our generation will be gone”. At present there is less than 1% of Poles in Kaunas. According to Franciszka Abramowicz the cause of efficient lithuanization in Kaunas was ban on Polish school opening after the war. “Stand by your Polish identity! Tell the world that Poles can fight for their national dignity”- this is what the delegate from Kaunas called for.
Helena Miziniak the president of honor of European Union of Polish Communities in Great Britain spoke about the free-will way of losing one’s national character. “Be alert to your struggle for keeping Polish identity. As it is not easy in today’s European Union. There are over 1 million of Poles in Great Britain but they don’t fight like you do”
Jan Rynkiewicz a former many years’ chairman of Vilnius Association branch referred in his speech to the meeting of Polish-Lithuanian Parliamentary Body of Difficult Matters. “There are no difficult matters in Polish-Lithuanian relations. The problems we discuss could be solved within one week. All we need is a good will of Lithuanian authorities”-Jan Rynkiewicz said. He also called the Association members for active participation in extremely important autumn Sejm elections. “It is possible to cross the 5 per cent election threshold. There are 10 000 members in Association. If each of them convinces 10 people to vote for Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania our party will be successful”-he said.
Longin Komolowski, the president of “Polish Community” said there is a need to keep unity among Poles in Lithuania. If the alliance between Association of Poles in Lithuania and Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania is sustained your problems will be solved” – said the president of “Polish Community”.
Czeslaw Okinczyk, the signatory of Lithuania Independence Act, lawyer, former president of Association local branch also called for unity of Poles before elections. He also related the discussion which took place in 1989 with professor Vytautas Landsbergis the president of Sajudis of that time when Association of Poles had been established. Landsbergis insisted on using “in Lithuania” instead of “on Lithuania” in the new Association name. But Poles did not agree.
The Professor tried to explain that it is important to make the distinction between “in” and “on”.
Stanislaw Widtman, the vice-minister of culture of Lithuania read out the official letter from Arunas Gelunas, the minister and informed that the meeting of new Association authorities and the chief resort will be arranged in the nearest future.
Stanislaw Pieszko during discussion aiming to amendments in the Association Statute suggested that the term of office numbers should be limited. His suggestion was that the same person shouldn’t be appointed to the post of the Association president more than twice. But the Congress rejected his proposal by majority of votes.
Michal Mackiewicz was accepted as a candidate for the fifth term of office during the new authorities elections. He was supported by the most numerous Association branches: Vilnius City, Vilnius, Salcininkai and Svencionys districts. The second candidate was Michal Kleczkowski, entrepreneur and the former president of Polish Scouting and Guiding Association in Lithuania. Kleczkowski withdrew his candidacy just before voting.
Michal Mackiewicz received 396 votes for, 1 vote against, 12 delegates abstained from voting. During the Congress two vice-presidents were called off. The Congress appointed new vice-presidents-Irena Bejnar, the president of Svencionys district, now responsible for co-ordination of smaller branches activities and Wlodzimierz Sieniuc, the president of Association Sport Centre up to the present. Now responsible for youth policy within whole Association. During the Congress the 30 people Association Committee was also elected.
The resolution in the scope of Polish education in Lithuania, public usage of minority language, land reprivatization in Vilnius Region, spelling of Polish names in identity cards, voting rights, lack of balance in supporting culture and keeping Polish identity was adopted.
The Congress addressed to the Polish authorities for Vilnius branch of Bialystok University financial support to purchase a land to build the branch main building.
Tłumaczenie Dorota Szewczyk-Madejewska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Dorota Szewczyk-Madejewska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.